© Josh Sager – March 2014
This week, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments for the highly controversial Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby case. The Hobby Lobby case strikes at the heart of two very important political issues—corporate personhood and religious liberty—by pitting the religious entitlement of employers against the right of employees to have access to contraception coverage.
Hobby Lobby’s arguments in this case boil down to a claim that Hobby Lobby is a Christian “corporate person,” thus forcing it to pay for employees’ contraception coverage is a violation of the 1st Amendment. In effect, the Hobby Lobby owners are seeking to legitimize the imposition of their religious beliefs over all of the employees of their for-profit, public business.
The arguments of Hobby Lobby are simply ridiculous for several reasons:
- The Hobby Lobby owners claim to oppose contraception because they think that it causes a type of abortion; this is simply not true, as most hormonal contraception either prevents ovulation or the implantation of a fertilized egg, preempting pregnancies rather than terminating them.
- Corporations are legal fictions that exist to make a profit and provide limited liability to their owners—they possess no religious beliefs or even independent sentience. Allowing the beliefs of these fictional persons (which are just proxies for the real persons who own them) to trump the religious liberties of their human employees is literally unprecedented in American law.
- Until it was mandated by the ACA, Hobby Lobby covered contraception in its health plans, thus the law’s mandate didn’t actually force them to do anything.
- There is no requirement that any business provide health care as compensation for employment, so, if Hobby Lobby feels this strongly about contraception, they can simply eliminate all health insurance benefits and forgo the sizable tax benefits that come from having employer health insurance.
Unfortunately, it appears as though this case will be extremely close and that it will likely be another 5-4 split depending upon which side of sanity Kennedy decides to fall. If the case goes in favor of Hobby Lobby, it will open a legal Pandora’s box that makes it possible for corporations to snatch even more rights that belong to humanity, while retaining their legal immunity and limited liability.
If Hobby Lobby can deny contraception coverage based upon religious liberty, what’s next? Can a business refuse to cover STD treatment because they see STDs as the wrath of god on “sluts and gays?” Can it ban blood transfusions and organ transplants? Can it pay less than minimum wage and require you to work six days a week?
At the end of the day, opening this legal Pandora’s box creates chaos by allowing religious zealots and bigots legal cover for imposing their views on everybody who works for them.
The Right Wing Liberty Dissonance
The right wing has united behind the arguments of Hobby Lobby under the aegis of “religious liberty” and, in doing so, has illustrated a very important flaw in their concept of liberty: they only care about preserving liberty when they believe that the government is infringing upon it and could care less about corporations violating those same liberties.
Out of one side of their mouth, the right wing argues that the ACA is evil for getting between Americans and their doctors by mandating that certain medical procedures be covered by insurance; out of the other, they argue that private entities have the moral and legal right to get between employees and their doctors by deciding which medical procedures should be banned due to religious beliefs that the employee may or may not hold. This disparity creates an irreconcilable cognitive dissonance that brings into question the right wing’s entire definition of liberty.
The right wing view of liberty focuses almost exclusively on negative liberties restricting government action (ex. the government cannot force you to practice a religion), while rejecting almost every positive liberty (ex. the right to a public education) and negative liberty that involves private action (ex. an employer forcing employees to follow their religious beliefs).
This incredibly pinched view on liberty causes the right wing to support policies that give large and powerful economic interests the ability to restrict the liberties of others. As previously alluded to in the ACA example, the right wing actually cares more about WHO is violating liberty than the actual liberties that are being violated—if it is the elected officials of the government who are restricting liberty, the right wing see it as evil, while, if an unelected board of a corporation decides to restrict those very same liberties for their employees, the right wing sees it as just a characteristic of the free market.
In short, the right wing defense of “liberty” only extends over those with enough money to be in a position of power. This view of liberty is in no way restricted to the issue of mandated contraception insurance. Here are a few other examples:
- Many in the right wing oppose the civil rights act and would make it legal for businesses to discriminate based upon race. While they may argue that refusing minority business is evil and a bad business strategy, they also see it as a function of the “liberty” of the business owner to control their own property.
- Many in the right wing support legalized employment discrimination against gays and trans-gendered individuals—in fact, 29 states have legalized anti-LGBT discrimination in hiring and firing (ex. firing somebody for the sole reason that they are gay).
- The right wing opposes regulations that would require businesses to pay women equally with men.
The right wing’s views on liberty are not definitionally wrong, but they are limited enough that they create a world where the wealthy are able to restrict the rights of those who they employ. As employment is necessary to support a family and many Americans don’t have multiple choices of employer, this view of liberty will force many Americans to conform to religious codes of conduct that that they don’t believe in.
It matters little whether religious observance is being forced on you by the government or by a private for-profit corporation—both situations result in the same violations of your fundamental rights. Unfortunately, it appears that the right wing is blind to this fact and it is unlikely that they will open their eyes unless it begins to affect a group that they care about (ex. If Google decided that all of its employees must renounce Christianity in order to stay employed).
Excellent, thank you.
As always, you cut to the chase. We are in such jeopardy with this one. What is next I wonder.
Massively skewed, as usual. Doubtless it escaped your notice that there were 18 forms of contraception in that coverage, hobby lobby objected to about six of them, and they were in fact de facto abortion. That leaves, what, 12? Hardly stonewalling anyone’s (human) rights. I’m no expert on insurance, but I understand that there are legal penalties involved in not offering it to workers. You – deliberately – make it sound like the right is ‘banning’ these actions, when the proper term is ‘ not supporting’ them. There is a big difference, and that difference is liberty. The only reason you would write an article as twisted as this is that you want to force people to act in accordance with your own procrustean view of ethics, instead of their own. Behold, the leftist definition of “liberty”.
Further condemning this article as drivel, is the utter availability of contraception virtually everywhere. It’s practically free for the asking at clinics.
A “human” right? More propaganda. You and everyone else has the right to what they earn – no more and no less. This includes freedom and liberty.
As the employer has the right to expect the work done as agreed to — no more no less. If corporations can expect religious obedience from employees, would any religion do? How about Islam, or say Jehovah Witnesses?
The problem with a ‘slippery slope’ argument is that it takes the point beyond reasonable bounds. Deciding that life begins at conception is hardly unreasonable. Making moral choices based on that decision is also reasonable. Expecting religious conduct from one’s employees, unless expressly stated as a condition of employment, is unreasonable. Seeking to confuse those 2 points does you no credit. These people have complied with the law, up until it violated their morals. Why would any reasonable person force obedience to a law that clearly violates a moral code, when easy access to alternatives are available? Not reasonable.
You are missing the fact that our Supreme Court has regularly decided that religious beliefs do not exempt Americans from civil laws (this argument was used to fight desegregation and more-recently, to legalize peyote for native Americans–in both cases, it failed).
The law does not change based upon personal morality, or the interpretation of some religious text. If it did, then people could easily find some religious reason to exempt themselves from whatever laws they choose (ex. Christians, Jews or Muslims could practice arranged child-marriages and hide behind their religions–which have texts that clearly sponsor the practices–in order to exempt themselves from the civil laws).
If you want a sane society, where religious people aren’t granted extraordinary rights, you simply need to change your view on this issue.
While I personally am not familiar with the civil cases you are citing as civil law, the opposing position is equally valid – forcing people to act against conscience, based on religion or not, is a good way to incite civil war. Never mind that the constitution supercedes all lesser laws, and is based upon morality and moral interpretation, legally forcing someone to act outside of good conscience, when there are other, reasonable options readily available, is a direct violation of both the spirit and the letter of the constitution.
As a matter of fact, reasonable exemtions to certain laws in the name of religious belief happen all the time at various jobs. Holy days, prayer breaks, certain dietary restrictions and the like.’
The key word here is ‘reasonable’. I trust the defining boundary of human life might be considered grounds for strong moral objection?
I see very little that could be called sane in leftist thought, but the more I study matters, the more it seems that real morality is characteristic of a higher thought frame, and morals based on the ‘collective good’ are ultimately rather relative, and often used to manipulate the uneducated. Which I find immoral.
Out of morbid curiosity, what is your definition of ‘sane’?
“the right of employees to have access to contraception coverage” lol Gosh, this could lead to a slippery slope back to the stone-age of 2013 when employers weren’t mandated to pay for insurance that covered birth-control: the horror! This is laughable. The liberals have been drunk on cognitive dissonance over this whole thing, which is why they never bother to check their facts on what the ruling actually was, or provide a legal counter-argument based on what they see as a better interpretation of the relevant laws. It’s just: I don’t like this so therefore the Supreme Court was wrong. What you call rights are entitlements and nobody has a right to have the government force other people to pay for your preferred birth control. Give me a break! This one is OBVIOUS!!!
Secondly: Nobody is preventing people from using the money they are paid in salary or wages to pay for the contraceptives they want. They’re just not forcing those people to act against their conscience in paying for contraceptives they believe are abortifacients.
Thirdly: As a classical liberal I hate how we misuse insurance in our culture. Insurance is not as a third party for all healthcare needs, it is for limiting the damage of unforeseeable expenses. You don’t buy food insurance to go by food, you don’t use your car insurance to get an oil change. Now, not only do we have that systematic irrationality in our culture, but the government is mandating it! So cry me a river if some people are exempt for a few things to be covered.